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Why I am leery of advanced stats.

While bloggers, media and fans have fallen in love with advanced stats, I just want to buy it a cup of coffee and get to know its intentions.

Let's all keep Mr Tanev.
Let's all keep Mr Tanev.
Rich Lam/Getty Images

I love hockey. I am pretty sure it is something in my Canadian DNA that I never lost that love, even after being out of Canada for the last 15 years. Hockey has undergone a change within its fan base. The inevitable move towards advanced statistics has created a divide between fans. Hell, they have create internal debate in fans like myself. I love stats because they show short and long term development of a player/team. Stats take all the individual actions and quantify them to show a pattern.

Having said all that, I have usually been an opponent on this blog of relying solely on stats for prediction of future performance. I also will question the validity of stats from time to time just on general principle. When we start looking at a statistic and for patterns, we ignore that the sample size that has been created was the result of individual actions in different situations that were influenced by other teammates, opponents, the coach they play for and their system, the coach they are playing against and their system….the cold they have been fighting for 3 days…..the fact their wife is pissed a them for missing their anniversary….etc…

Baseball statistics are awesome. I love baseball stats because they are straight forward. The batter is against the pitcher. There two people involved in thousands of different situations which could lead to more possible outcomes that can be studied to look for patterns. But in the end it does come down to an interaction between a pitcher and batter.

Hockey has 12 skaters on the ice. 12 different variables that all have independent thought and different tendencies in different situations. And yet we focus on the individual and their stats as if they were independent of the actions around them. Case in point….Corsi. I like the stat to see which players drive play offensively. But I also realize that that while those players with a high Corsi might have it for a number of reasons, not just that they are really good at this hockey thing. Bonino benefitted from time with Perry and Getz in Anaheim, which helped to raise his stats. I think he also benefitted in Van playing with a guy like Vrbata, who likes to shoot a lot. Our newest Canuck is getting killed in the Adv. Stats world because of his Corsi (amongst other stats). But if we look at his most frequent linemates










Taken from line combos

I see nobody named Crosby, Malkin or Kunitz. I see Bennett and Downie. And here is where it gets confusing. Bennett has better adv. numbers than the other two, so the assumption is the he could have great numbers if he didn’t have to play with Sutter and Downie, who have similar numbers. But the other argument is that the three of them should just not play together. But due to the composition of the top two lines, the Pens coach put those three guys together. The three of them were put into a situation for the benefit of the top 2 lines. I wonder if Pens fans would agree with that statement.

NucksMisconduct, as a group has been slow to embrace advanced statistics. The powers that be tried to bring in a few guys over the years to enhance the coverage and understanding of this new numbers revolution. And as was pointed out by a few members of NM, adv. stats has brought in new fans to the game and more people to blogs like NM. I like new people….I like people who have different points of view. I like the use of stats to reinforce ideas that have already been noticed or to bring up new issues.

But you know what is missing from this revolution…….the visual. And I don’t mean fancy graphs to show the numbers in eight different ways. I also don’t mean the all-biased "eye test". I mean actually visuals to show reasons why a player’s Corsi is below 47%. I think this type of evidence will become crucial to players when they go to renew contracts or have to go to arbitration. Teams will start bringing in these numbers to back up their cases for less money. Players are going to have to show visually that their line mate’s and coach’s decisions are hurting their adv. stats. "Look, teammate continually passed up on a shot, gave up the puck and it hurt my Corsi….please look at this video compilation of several games." Baseball doesn’t have this problem. You either stood at the plate or threw the pitch and are completely responsible for the result. (Well, unless the coach told you to hit and run or sacrifice bunt)

Advanced stats have added a level of interest to the NHL and are a bloggers’ endless supply of discussion material. And while advanced stats are making inroads with organizations, they will eventually lead to players looking at their teammates differently. If I am a player and my individual stats are never really individual….do I take them seriously? Or do I insist on playing with only certain players? Do I start making decisions on the ice based on how they will look on stat sheet? Hockey comes down to who scores more, but now advanced stats look at how, when and where you scored from. But it really can’t really speak about the actions of the 11 other guys on the ice and the decisions that were made before the goal.

And so now I speak to those who love the advanced stat. Welcome to NM. Enjoy your time here and use your stats to provoke debate and back up your train of thought. I will only speak for myself here and say that I will gladly listen and think about the stats shown to my eyes and then digest them with a grain of salt. My Simon Fraser University stats professor was very honest in his course when he said, "We can create several statistics for almost every observable occurrence, but be aware of the stats you are shown. They were pick to show an argument and will never show you all sides of it." Advanced stats are great for the season autopsy and can give us a broad look at what might await us, but in the end the season starts and shit happens which blows some of those preconceived notions created by adv. stats out of the fucking water.  Advanced stats can help prove a point, but no one here is going to win the internet, but me. So let us all at NM start realizing when the horse has passed to the other side of the light and agree to disagree on certain things. Advanced stats are here to stay, so if you're not a fan of them at least learn what they measure so you can blow the other guys theory out of the water with you own mean scientifically chosen statistic that shows something else. And once you both have stated your argument, I would think that would lead the discussion to another area......instead of trying to re-state the same fact over...and over...and over....I see the light Seabiscuit.....again.

I've learned something over my lengthy time on the internet, besides me winning it, you have a very tiny chance of changing the opinion of an individual, even when you present them with statistics. That tiny chance goes to zilch when after presenting your facts and they disagree, you decide to insult their intelligence, their mom and choice of potato chips (sour cream n'onion). Let's try and remember that we're supposed to be fans of the Canucks, no matter if we agree on the direction management is heading. Let's save the bickering over numbers for all of our future divorces.